The Power of Two: Kobayashi and Tohru

When I looked at the list of topics I wanted to talk about, I noticed that it tended to focus on things I’ve just watched or read, and that stuff I’ve seen less recently tended to disappear.

I mean, I do keep coming back to Bebop and Neon Genesis and Black Lagoon, but I keep coming back to them because I keep coming back to them, if you catch my drift. I watch the animes every few months, or reread the EVA manga (and I’ll be watching the anime when it hits Netflix).

But one of my faves is, and continues to be Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid. The anime’s out there, but the manga is continuing and has spawned two spinoffs as well, and I track them all as they pop up.

Kobayashi and her dragon maid, that is, the dragon masquerading as her maid, Tohru, form, like a lot of the couples you see heading up a series, a complementary pair in that their dissimilarities fit together neatly.

Kobayashi and Tohru

Someone’s been into the sake: Tohru (left) and Kobayashi.

Kobayashi is calm, almost chill (except when she has been drinking), much more so in the manga than she is in the anime. She opens the door. There’s a dragon outside. She says, “Do you want some tea?” She opens the door. There’s a dragon outside. She offers the dragon her business card.

To be frank, Kobayashi, except when she is drunk off her ass, is a pretty flat character. She’s very mannish – apropos as she’s the father figure in the show – but also intelligent and dedicated. She has difficulty showing emotion but is open to learning how. She is psychologically strong but physically weak, small with little stamina and a bad back. She wears suits with trousers. She is a virgin and largely asexual.

Tohru, on the other hand, is all over-the-top action. Kobayashi’s figure is a straight line; Tohru has curves enough for three Kobayashis. She is not stupid but is unused to life on Earth and suffers frequently from culture shock, and so has to have things explained to her. In her human form she’s manifestly a girly girl; she cooks, she cleans, she shops, she wears frilly clothes. She is explicit about being sexually attracted to Kobayashi.

Their characters, in other words, mesh together very well.

This would be a dynamic pairing if the show had a meta-plot. If they were, for instance, a pair of detectives, their differences could be used to create conflict and tension, while the fact that between them they have whatever resource they would need to solve the case would drive the plot to conclusion.

But Kobayashi isn’t a detective story. It’s largely slice of life, and so it doesn’t have to be driven anywhere.

This creates a narratological problem. You know what it is? They like each other.

Okay, if they like each other, where’s the dramatic tension going to come from?

I’ll wait.

Still waiting.

Got anything yet?

Now, there’s the question of the sexual relationship between them. Tohru is hot for Kobayashi, and Kobayashi is not. But there’s little tension there: Kobayashi says “No,” and since between the two of them she’s got the stronger will, then “No” it shall be. It’s more a running gag than a source of dramatic tension.

I like Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid largely because it’s cute, a little smutty, and it has Kobayashi, who is a pretty unusual character by manga standards. But the combination of Kobayashi and Tohru shows the problem with a series solely driven by a pair of complementary characters that like each other: there’s little tension between them apart from when Tohru faces cultural misinterpretation, and they can solve any problems that do arise using the skills that between them they possess.

They need something else out there, something they work toward, or something that works on them, to drive the series forward.

Koolkyoushinnjya, the writer, seems to have figured this out pretty quickly. The question is how to solve it. He can’t separate Kobayashi and Tohru; they’re his basic dyad and if he does he hasn’t got a series. I mean, it’s called “Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid!” That means there’s got to be a Miss Kobayashi and there’s got to be a dragon maid (Tohru)!

The trick he uses is to run out new characters every so often. First there is Kanna, who turns the stable dyad into a Father, Mother, Child trio, albeit one that is all female. The Child creates tension by being childlike/inexperienced, and conflict as Father and Mother disagree on child rearing.

Then come Fafnir and Lucoa, each of whom affects the nuclear dyad differently, then Elma, who is a long-term foe of Tohru’s, then Ilulu, who hates all humans, then…Do you see what happens? As each new character is introduced into the milieu (Dead god, did I actually use the word milieu in a sentence?) the new character creates…

…wait for it…

CONFLICT!

TENSION!

There’s no conflict and little tension INSIDE the core duo, because they are TOO well matched in terms of their complementarity, so the writers get the creative tension into the series by applying outside pressure. This can be seen most clearly when Tohru’s father comes to our world to take Tohru back to theirs; it’s one of the few moments in the entire series when their pairing of Kobayashi and Tohru is under real stress. At the time Kobayashi’s psychological strength is the key to winning the day, not Tohru’s physical strength. But that’s what Kobayashi does. She’s usually chill, but she wins the day by losing her cool. Yes, Tohru is so important to Kobayashi that to keep her Kobayashi goes against her own nature and loses her temper (while sober).

We’re about to see something similar. As of the last issue I’ve seen, Kanna’s dad has just shown up. This bodes not well for her surrogate parents, Kobayashi and Tohru. But it’s the same old story structurally: Series slowing down? Trot out a new character! Boom! Instant conflict!

But between them Kobayashi and Tohru can resolve it. That’s just how they roll.

I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.

2 thoughts on “The Power of Two: Kobayashi and Tohru

  1. ” As each new character is introduced into the milieu (Dead god, did I actually use the word milieu in a sentence?) the new character creates…”

    Don’t want to freak you out or anything, but actually, you used it twice.

    But I thought it made perfect sense!

    Liked by 1 person

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